(Victoria Regional Transit Commission meeting February 2020/Photo by Brishti Basu)

At a well attended Victoria Transit Commission (VRTC) meeting on Tuesday morning, members rejected a motion that sought to explore funding options for fare-free bus passes outside the City of Victoria.

The motion submitted by Victoria mayor Lisa Helps recommended that staff be directed to find funding partners and establish a plan to pilot fare-free public transit for students under 18 in the capital district outside the boundaries of the City of Victoria.

It was defeated after the commission deadlocked with a 4-4 tied vote – the same deadlock that led to this motion being defeated when it was first brought up at a VRTC meeting in August 2019.

In December 2019, Victoria began providing free transit passes to students aged 12-18 funded by Sunday street parking fares in the downtown core.

This initiative, while largely popular within Victoria, has resulted in alienating students in neighbouring municipalities where school catchment boundaries extend past municipal borders.

The inequity felt by these students as well as their advocacy for free transit as a way to combat climate change was represented by picketers calling for fare-free youth transit outside the BC Transit boardroom on Tuesday.

(Climate protest outside BC Transit boardroom/Photo by Brishti Basu)

During the meeting itself, Mayor Lisa Helps, Victoria councillor Sharmarke Dubow, and University of Victoria student representative Juliet Watts all spoke in favour of expanding Victoria’s program and making it available for students across the capital region.

However several concerns were raised by Saanich mayor Fred Haynes, North Saanich mayor Geoff Orr, as well as VRTC chair Susan Brice herself.

Their main contention was that funding youth bus passes would distract the commission and take away capital from their main priority: increasing BC Transit’s availability and frequency in order to better serve parts of the region that currently lack reliable bus service.

“A number of factors go into play for why people choose to take transit. Price is one of them, but also coverage, frequency, and convenience motivate people to make that change in their life,” said commission chair Susan Brice.

“I am now laser focused on this region and getting a better network throughout the region,” she added, before putting the motion to a vote. It was defeated on a 4-4 tie.

Around 2,400 youth aged 12-18 have thus far taken advantage of the City of Victoria’s free bus pass program.

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